Cloud enablement

Windstream Unwraps Cloud Strategy

Windstream Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: WIN) signaled its intent to join the telecom rush to the cloud when it coughed up US$310 million to acquire Hosted Solutions in November of 2010, but the company has stayed relatively quiet about those plans since. (See Windstream Buys Hosted Solutions.)

Until now, that is. With the integration of its acquisition nearly complete, Little Rock, Ark.-based Windstream, which offers all manner of fixed line services in 29 U.S. states and Washington, D.C., is preparing to unveil a cloud services plan that is tailored to its existing business customers and comes with additional support.

Windstream's service won't compete with companies such as Amazon Web Services Inc. and Rackspace , or even go head-to-head with Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ)'s low-end offering from its Terramark unit, says Kip Turco, SVP of Data Center Operations for Windstream Hosted Solutions (WHS), the new cloud business. Those services are more commodity compute and storage based and focus on the rapid turn-up and turn-down of resources at commodity prices.

"We are much more a high-touch collaborative company," Turco says. "When a business loads an application on our cloud or puts it in our data center, they very much interact with our engineering and operations staff, who will help them understand what is the most efficient way to run the app, whether it is going to reside on a Dell box, an HP box or on a cloud platform. We can help them determine what is the best OS to support it, how it scales and how it [could] process quicker."

That includes having service and support staff that answer the phone in the middle of the night for the nervous CIO with a big launch ahead and who has concerns about how software and hardware are interacting, Turco says.

WHS's initial targets are businesses within Windstream's local service footprint, which covers 3.3 million access lines. Many of those businesses already buy voice and data services from the carrier and have an established relationship. The integration of the cloud platform with the network removes what had been a bottleneck for Hosted Solutions as a standalone company and enables new efficiencies, Turco says.

Customers who don't have their own infrastructure but are on-net with Windstream will have easy access to the WHS data centers to turn up or turn down processing, computing and storage capabilities on demand.

The WHS team is hoping those customers will be able to easily connect with the cloud platform. "We want to make it a very easy and good product to buy," Turco says.

A fundamental piece of the WHS approach is the Hosted Solutions cloud platform, which was built to be massively scalable but also set up to enable customers to maintain the portability of their applications and data.

"We don't force people to develop their applications on our APIs or to write to our APIs. We provide them raw resources -- compute and storage -- and then we custom-configure to that application," Turco says. "We don't lock them down."

Fear of being locked into one cloud provider, without being able to move to another cloud or bring applications back in house, is one of the stumbling blocks to cloud deployment. Turco believes more service providers will embrace the open approach down the road. But doing business that way also adds cost, which must be passed on to customers, making the Windstream cloud services more expensive than commodity clouds -- a risk the company is ready to accept. There is also already substantial competition in the cloud space, acknowledges Turco.

Because cloud services are sold at the C-level -- a different sales target than traditional data services -- Windstream, like other cloud providers, is using different sales teams to take this service to market. Part of their job will be educating the market as to how the WHS offer is different and worth more.

Windstream will make its solutions available outside the Windstream footprint, but the first order of business is serving its existing customers.

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

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